I have fallen in love. With a city.

Well, it may have been more of a whirlwind romance last week in Guadalajara, Mexico. But we get to date again in July an December.

How this all happened is one of those series of unlikely fortunate chains of serendipity, going back a few months to my fellowship at Thompson Rivers University. As part of the You Show open seminar I ran wrangled with Brian Lamb one of our guests we brought in was Tannis Morgan from the Justice Institute of British Columbia (it will take another longish post to talk about the fantastic educational work the JIBC does that goes way under the edu-radar).

Besides sharing some JIBC projects that ended up highly influencing a project that emerged from the You Show, Tannis was willing in our goofy video series to play the role of “The Consultant from Vancouver” who came in to shake things up

Brian had mentioned that there was a possibility he might be a part of a project Tannis had landed in Mexico. I not so subtly dropped the hint I’d like to be part of it too.

And thus it has happened. Our plan was hatched via a skype call with Brian at the tie I was traveling back from Canada; with a shaky mobile connection on Yachats Oregon I heard maybe 65% of the call.

That was enough to get me here

I started writing and ended up blabbing about the project. Save that for another post. That one will explain why I an talking about agoras in Mexico.

Guadalajara! Guadalajara! Guadalajara!

Birthplace of mariachis. But much more.

Toss all your pre-conceptions of Mexico formed by TV news and visits to border towns. That’s like basing an impression of Vermont because you went to LA. Okay, thats a bit of an over exaggeration.

And yes, my impressions are from a one week stay, seeing maybe 4 different parts of the city. The ones that resonate most are the plazas in the central part of the city where we stayed, just one block from the Plaza de la Liberacion

The name (and a statue usually covered in bords) commemorates Miguel Hidalgo’s action of abolishing slavery. In 1810 (cough, USA).

Every night this plaza (and several adjacent ones) were crowded with people- old men alone on benches, kids playing soccer, groups of bicycle riders, lots of graduating students, ladies selling toys, but mostly, it seems, a lot of families, just out socializing in public.

It makes me think of what we do at home in the US. We sit mostly alone in our cars, and go home at night to our houses, and gather around our screens.

Okay, gross, generalization flag. But the liveliness of these open social spaces in Guadalajara stay with me.

I thought on sitting down to this post to characterize this visit, but it’s just too much to fit in. So I fall back to the way I view the world, through my camera. Random bits.

The first night a flower festival, hundreds of people walking up and down one of the main streets, Chapultapec, buying, holding, or just admiring flowers.

I watched the preparation and yes, sampled, local food- yep chapulines are roasted grasshoppers. Tastes like…

And in less than maybe 4 hours of arriving, I was tasting my first street tacos.

The dress industry is significant. I could not find one in my size.

We saw almost daily peaceful protests, I understand it was those at the bottom of the economic ladder asking for basic services.

I did not fully capture this moment, but the guy in the center was selling flowers. His method was to push them in the hands of those passing by, and convince them the flowers were worth paying for. I think the lady is suggesting a purchase.

Everywhere you go people are trying to sell small things. Trinkets. Sunglasses. Phone cards. In traffic, they walk up to cars selling papers or water, I saw the old window washing trick, even jugglers in traffic. Sometimes its sad little kids. Many of the streets are lined with people selling stuff on tables. It hardly seems highly profitable, but represents how hard these people are willing to work themselves to get a little bit of money. I bet they take home less in a day then we spend on coffee.

It can get tiring!

I felt a bit snaky for taking that photo, but it was priceless. It also shows one of hundreds of these shoe shine stands, some only 10 feet from the next. These folks set up shop everyday. I have no idea how many shoes get shined, but I’d say half I passed at anyone time had a customer.

We were advised to see the grand murals of Jose Orozco (and there are many more in my set from the stunning Cabañas, I cannot do justice to this art, see more info elsewhere). This ceiling mural is in the Congress chamber of the Palacio de Gobierno. “The People and its Leaders” depicts the signing of the laws that abolished slavery in Mexico.

I am hard pressed to imagine the regular transactions of Congress in Washington DC happening with this rather bold art on the ceiling. It is visceral.

Almost every sunset was glorious, luckily our hotel had a rooftop vantage point. And margaritas in styrofoam cups.

There is a balloon industry too. We would see people walking from this area with huge bundles of balloons, or here, taking them by the truckloads. Fiestas are seemlingly every day.

I’m running out of steam here, but cannot press publish until I mention the genuine welcomeness of the people we met.

This was from a last day meal with our colleagues at University of Guadalajara, one of those massive mid day meals (where digestion required a 5pm siesta). You travel places in the world where the people you meet or the ones who you interact with in shops and restaurants and hotels are pleasant because it’s their job.

But here it seems much more genuine, and was encapsulated by our driver Joaquin, who we learned was not only a former ambulance driver, body guard, and bulldozer operator, and most likely, an astronaut.

We learned he works 6 or more days a week, up to 13 hours a day and you would never know from the way he shared stories and laughed with us, all more impressive since our language overlap was maybe 20% (fortunately, Tannis is conversant in Spanish).

I had just started a crash course in the bare bones of Spanish (I curse the French I took in high school, all I can with it is ask for the soup of the day), thanks to recommendations from Brian for the Coffee Break Spanish podcasts (taught by people in Scotland) and the book Madrigal’s Magic Guide to Spanish.

It’s my plan to be able to return in July and speak and understand a few more sentences, rather than the few handful of words I could toss out like a 3 year old.

Anything I tweeted was likely done with the help of Google Translate (the real time translation of signs via the camera is just short of amazing).

Guadalajara, you make me all googly-eyed!

UPDATE (like 5 minutes after publishing): I knew this would happen. Such a glaring omission to leave out meeting Ken Bauer and his family, who took us to a lovely meal at La Tequila.

photo from Tannis Morgan

photo from Tannis Morgan

Ken and I started crossing paths in Connected Courses which he took off with like a rocket setting up his own syndicated hub for his computer science students at Tec de Monterey in Guadalajara. We’ve been going rapid fire by twitter since then, and so it was a double bonus when I realized he lived in Guadalajara.

We learned he has lived and taught in Mexico since the mid 1990s (he’s from Victoria originally, see another Canadian-Mexican-Edtech connection), and he’s a REAL programmer ;-) I so enjoyed meeting ken in person, and am feeling this is just the start of some great collaboration.

The day we met was a bit strange as there was state wide violence going on in Jalisco with the drug cartels, there was news of burning buses and traffic blockades, a downed helicopter. Our hosts ere gently warning us to not try and go out of the city (we had an outing planned).

Ken re-assured us (“If it was not safe, I would not be bringing my 7 year old son”) and he was correct.

Sorry, Ken, I would be remiss if I left this out.

Also, see Tannis’s blog post summary of the trip

flickr photo by cogdogblog http://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/17151302668 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. It was a pleasure to meet you here Alan as well as Tannis and Barb. Thank you so much for your time and conversation. This is a beginning and I’m sure more is yet to be written and photographed. See you here soon!

  2. My parents took me to Guadalajara first in 1964, and it’s been a love affair ever since. You can borrow her since you honor her so well!

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